I know this is a very bold title to a post, but after reading some horrifying information online yesterday on the topic of songwriting, I felt like I had to throw my hat in the ring on this subject.
On a portal “expert answer” site I saw an article that looked like “well, you have written some words, and some chords, and now you need to find a good melody.”
Editorial opinion: you have not written a song yet if you have “chords in search of a melody.”
To word it as though melody is the “last step” in the process is totally incorrect, and in fact, ass-backwards.
I’m sure there are many approaches to squeeze one’s creativity, but a great song will sound great even without the lyrics. Sometimes a verbal phrase may “unlock” a melodic idea for me. However, melody is king.
No melody = no song!
Look at the great tunes that last over 25, 50, 100, 300 years….they are unforgettable melodies. So if you write a tune, ask yourself – could an instrument play the melody, and fully retain the identity of the tune?
Contemplate for a minute the opening lines of “You Are the Sunshine of my Life” or Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusic” or “Michelle” or “Yesterday” by the Beatles.
You can just sing any one of these melodies walking down the street (without lyrics), with no fancy equipment or even an instrument other than your voice.
Even a solo sax could convey the whole thing all by itself.
In 2 lines of music, the story is being told. You remember it forever. It’s more than notes, it’s a song. When you “write”, that’s what your radar must be attuned to.
To “receive” these melodic germs, is like being tuned in to a “zone”. I have had days that are barren….waiting for a song to come, and nothing. Then, I’ll be in a zone where anything and everything I sing sounds like a tune.
You’ll need a way to capture the “germ”, the inspiration when it comes knocking. Personally I like writing it on paper, but others like a recorder (maybe you can sing into your iPhone or other?).
I personally stay away from the confines of the guitar or piano and do “sound in my head direct to paper” to get the purest result.
- I hear many fingersyle guitarists doing things where fingers look very “busy” as they thumpick their way through chord progressions at breakneck tempos.
- I hear many guitarsists who play a percussive / slap / harmonics thing.
- I hear many singer-songwriters with gruffy bluesy voices and weird instruments.
- I hear many super technical jazz bands.
Someone will then invariably ask me my opinion – “did you like them?” or “what did you think?”
It’s quite simple…all I say is “sing me the melody.”
That’s the moment where you know if a piece of music soars to the heavens or falls flat on it’s face.
(The musician may be great, but it’s the SONG we’re talking about – not the skill, the look, or the charisma.)
That’s the test.
Could chords or lyrics or a groove inspire YOU to write a song? You bet! Yes, of course, and that’s ok.
I repeat – sing me the melody.